The Real Face of China’s Education System

China’s education system has been glorified in a recent report from the Grattan Institute. Here is a Chinese view of its education system from an editorial in The China Daily (10 December 2009) in response to Shanghai’s top results in the OECD’s Programme for International Assessments (PISA) 2009. It provides a more balanced view of China’s education achievements. For example, the Grattan Institute report makes no mention of the additional hours that Chinese students do in homework and after-school lessons. The China Daily report states that when these are taken into account with classroom time, Chinese students spend twice as much time studying as US students. Is this what we want in Australian education?

The true face of China’s education is shrouded in mystery. But the one certainty is that our heads should not be turned by the good results our teenagers collected from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The program, administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that Chinese teenagers were rather in advance of their peers from 64 countries and regions in terms of reading literacy, mathematics and science.

Our high-school students deliver good scores at International Olympiads, which are held every year in math, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and junior science. Nearly every Chinese student participating in the competitions brings home a medal.

But we should not become complacent. The mixed results from the tests, competitions and surveys all over the world remind us of the flaws in our education system.

However, the fulsome compliments for Chinese students’ high grades are not necessarily justification that we can glory in our education.

A global survey of teenagers worldwide in November ranked Chinese students at the bottom when it comes to applying creativity and imagination.

The results of both the program and survey reflect the true qualities of our teenage students and the nation’s education.

China’s education stresses textbook knowledge rather than a fundamental understanding of subjects. Both teachers and parents look at education with an eye on fame and success. For them, a successful education means entering a prestigious school and getting high grades on tests, while neglecting the fact that education also plays a crucial role in nurturing a healthy and complete personality.

Most of our students have to burn the midnight oil to deal with their homework. Also, Chinese parents pressure their children too much by sending them to various after-school classes.

A report from the Asia Society years ago compared K-12 education in China and the United States. Not only do the Chinese set higher standards (to graduate from high school, students must complete biology, chemistry, physics, algebra and geometry), but also the Chinese school year is a month longer. When regular school time is combined with homework, Chinese students spend twice as much time studying.

The just-released “Open Doors” report from the Institute of International Education in the United States reveals that China is the largest source of overseas students in the US. Nearly 128,000 students from China studied in the US in 2009-2010 – an impressive 30 percent increase on the previous year.

But these Chinese students are hardly representative of all of China, as they are from cities that have the top schools and teachers.

In two decades of pushing for universal education and higher standards, China now produces students of academic merit. But it still has a long way to go to deliver quality education to all children, especially those in rural areas.

China Daily

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